Two months after the devastating Valley Fire in California destroyed homes and lives across Sonoma and Lake Counties, hundreds of recovered pets and livestock have made it home or been adopted.
The blistering fire scorched more than two thousand structures on September 12th, including a vast swath of the town of Middleton. Animal control officers fanned out along the flames rescuing terrified animals either left behind or separated from their owners in the chaos.
In the days following the fire, the Lake County Animal Control took in some 400 animals, ranging from dogs to cats to horses, pigs and goats -- even several snakes and Coi fish.
“The Valley Fire unfortunately pretty much redefined everything we knew about disaster response,” said Lake County Animal Control Director Bill Davidson.
The shelter set an Oct. 28 deadline for owners to claim their pets. Davidson said 90 percent of the animals were picked up by their owners by the deadline. The shelter announced any remaining pets would be put up for adoption the next day.
“There are a line of cars all the way out to the beginning of this parking lot over here,” recalled animal control officer Nehemiah White of the first adoption day, “with people wanting to have these animals.”
This week the shelter’s remaining Valley Fire refugees numbered exactly two pit bulls and three less-than-friendly feral cats --which Davidson creatively advertised on social media.
“This morning I put a Facebook post for free barn cats,” said Davidson. “Who wants a barn cat?”
Many of the pets were treated for burns and other wounds. White was among officers who braved the flaming terrain to herd goats and cattle to safety.
“We’re coming across dogs that are loose in the area,” White said, “and livestock that are loose and the animals are really scared.”
Although the shelter has been witness to many joyful reunions, Davidson said the 76 thousand burned acres yielded just as many heartbreaking tales.
“Sadly I’m afraid there may be many people that don’t find their animals,” Davidson said.
Last week, former Cobb Mountain resident John Hackler paid what he estimated to be his 20th trip to the shelter, checking for his lost cat Angus. He quickly entered the feral cat room to scan the cages of cats — once again feeling the futility of yet another failed search.
“I have a lot of hope that he’s still alive,” Davidson said, leaning on a pickup truck filled with donated furniture from a church.
Davidson’s Cobb Mountain home was reduced to an empty lot — he likened the image to an ash tray. Two of his other cats died cowering in the house - while two others miraculously returned home in the weeks since. Hackler said he regularly visits the property, setting out food and calling for Angus.
“He means everything,” Hackler said. “He’s like a family member.”
One day last week, a farmer hauled off six goats that had been living at the shelter since the fire. Davidson said he was relieved and happy to know so many of the fire’s critter victims had found homes — a development he credits to a concerned community stepping up.
“The community,” he said, “has been absolutely outstanding to re-home these animals.”